The Keto Diet: What Is It and Is It Right For You?

The Ketogenic Diet has been around for almost a century – as early as the 1920’s, it was used as a therapy for epilepsy (1) and, in one form or another, has been especially popular in bodybuilding. The “Iron Guru”, Vince Gironda, used to advocate a high fat, low carb, high protein diet similar to the keto diet as far back as the 1960’s. Fast-forward to the mid-90’s and you have another variation on the Keto Diet, this time one called the Anabolic Diet by Dr. Mario Di Pasquale (2). One of the things that come to mind when I think of his diet is the short-lived bodybuilding federation run by Vince McMahon (WBF) and the good Doctor’s attempt to create highly anabolic results by diet manipulation because of the steroid ban McMahon implemented.

What is a Ketogenic Diet? It is a very low carb (10% or less of total calories), moderate to high protein, high fat diet that forces the body to utilize fats for energy since glucose stores will become depleted soon after starting this diet.

Ah, but it’s not as simple as that! There are 3 popularly-accepted variations on this diet:

  • Standard Keto Dieting (SKD) — This is the classic version and the easiest to follow. There’s no carbohydrate re-feeding with this one as there are with the other two versions. This is simply a diet that is moderate-high protein, high fat, low carbohydrate. Who is this version suited for? Primarily for those individuals that have reasonably sedentary lifestyles and find that their workout performance is not overly affected from dramatically reduced carbohydrate intake. Additionally, this is the best option for people who don’t train all that hard or those that are highly resistant to insulin.
  • Targeted Keto Dieting (TKD) — This variation allows predetermined periods of carbohydrate intake primarily in the hours around the workout to provide adequate glucose for workout energy. The goal here is to improve training performance without affecting ketosis for anything more than the length of your workout. Who is this version best suited for? The individual that works out intensely several times a week and feels that training performance and progress is suffering from the low-carb dieting. This is also good for those that do not do well with large carbohydrate re-feeds.
  • Cyclical Keto Dieting (CKD) — This version utilizes planned carbohydrate re-feeds to replenish muscle glycogen stores after they have been depleted from dieting. So, you are strictly following the diet for 6 days with 1 day devoted to refeeding. This approach is typically based on training intensity and goals. Who is this version suited for? This is generally considered the most popular variation of keto dieting among serious performance-minded athletes and individuals. If you work out intensely and feel your training performance is not where you want it to be after using both the SKD and TKD versions, then the CKD version is the next step.

How is a keto diet different from all the other low-carb diets out there? Primarily, some people believe a keto diet is most effective when the body enters a state known as “ketosis” and begins producing ketones for energy which can only happen after severe carb restriction. By the way the process of ketosis is where the term “ketogenic” comes from. The logical question at this point is, what is ketosis?

Medical News Today defines ketosis as “a metabolic process that occurs when the body does not have enough glucose for energy. Stored fats are broken down for energy, resulting in a build-up of acids called ketones within the body”. Ketones are water-soluble organic compound that is synthesized in the liver from fatty acids when carbohydrate intake is restricted.

Is the Keto Diet an effective way to lose fat (3)? The general opinion is yes – the Keto Diet is even more effective than other low-carb/low-fat diets (4,5). The diet can be used by virtually anyone – but it goes without saying that you should talk to your doctor before beginning such a diet, especially if you are taking medications. The diet works by causing changes in body chemistry that can have a major effect on any medications you may be taking, especially during the initial couple of weeks. While the keto diet is completely safe for healthy people, there are initial side effects as your body adjusts to the drastic changes in carbohydrate intake. These short-term side effects include: poor workout performance, low energy, a “cloudy” mental state, hunger, potential sleep problems, nausea and digestive discomfort. The key here is that these effects are short term and will pass after the few weeks. One way to reduce some of these effects is to first try a typical lower carb diet for a week, then go into a Keto diet.

If you’d like to give the Keto Diet a try, you’ll want to check out Part 2 of this article, we’ll take a detailed look at meal ideas and set up sample diets, including options for bodybuilders, who want more protein, and vegetarians.

by Jim Brewster, CPT, CSN.


  1. Kossoff, E. H., & Freeman, J. M. (2004). The Ketogenic Diet. Epilepsy and the Ketogenic Diet, 53-61. doi:10.1007/978-1-59259-808-3_3
  2. Di Pasquale, M. G. (1995). The Anabolic Diet. Optimum Training Systems.
  3. Fukao, T., Lopaschuk, G. D., & Mitchell, G. A. (2004). Pathways and control of ketone body metabolism: on the fringe of lipid biochemistry. Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids, 70(3), 243-251. doi:10.1016/j.plefa.2003.11.001
  4. Westman, E. C., Yancy, W. S., Mavropoulos, J. C., Marquart, M., & Mcduffie, J. R. (2008). The effect of a low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet versus a low-glycemic index diet on glycemic control in type 2 diabetes mellitus. Nutrition & Metabolism, 5(1), 36. doi:10.1186/1743-7075-5-36
  5. Elsheikh, M. (2003). Randomised trial comparing a Low Carbohydrate Diet and a Low Glycaemic Index Diet on body weight, hyperandrogenism and cardiovascular risk factors in women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). 1617-1623. doi:10.1186/isrctn55425758

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